Pig Iron Bob Finds a further use for Scrap Iron: Barbed Wire for his Cold War Concentration Camps

Les Louis

During the Cold War in Australia in the early 1950s, the Left alleged that the “Fascist” Menzies Government intended to silence its opponents in concentration camps – a charge that has been dismissed as typical communist paranoia. Recently released documents in the Australian Archives unearthed by me reveal that establishment of internment camps was part of the government’s contingency planning in preparation for war.!

In 1950, drafting of the Commonwealth War Book, which included chapters on internal security and control of aliens was stepped up. The Director General of ASIO (Colonel Spry) was to provide the Attorney-General Department with the names of persons to be detained in order to prevent actions prejudicial to the public safety or defence of the Commonwealth. From July 1950, believing that emergency measures in preparation for war were of utmost urgency, Spry launched ASIO on the massive task of compiling internment lists, by 15 January 1951, initially. In December 1950 he demanded an interim list of ‘750 selected Communists” as their detention “would render the Party organisation innocuous for a period of time”. By August 1951 “about 1,100 suspected Communist officials [had] been selected for internment”.

1. The Director General prescribed the categories of British subjects to be included on the internment lists. These were to become:

a) Membership of the Central Committee of the communist Party of Australia;

b) Members of State Committees of the Communist Party of Australia;

c) Members of metropolitan district committees of the Communist Party of Australia;

d) Officials of the Communist Party of Australia Branches;

e) Communist paid journalists, organisers and other activists.

2. Prominent Communists in the Eureka Youth League and other Communist Party of Australia subsidiaries and bodies under strong Communist influence, including Communist members of National or Federal Committees and Communist State and local officials, and persons responsible for the publication of periodicals and literature of such subsidiaries and bodies. [In this category NSW lists included: EYL, Australian-Russian Society, Australian Peace Council (NSW), Democratic Rights Council, New Housewives’ Association, New Theatre League.1

3. Leading Communist trade union officials.

4. Communist disrupters of industry.

5. Communists in key positions in the Public Service of the Commonwealth or a State.

6. Communists who are in key positions in Government scientific and industrial establishments.

7. Communists who are in key positions in firms engaged in secret Government work.

8. Persons reasonably suspected of engaging in espionage, sabotage or other covert activity in the interest of the Communist Party of Australia or of an enemy country.

The categories for inclusion of Enemy Aliens were:

A. Persons between the ages of 16 and 65 who entered Australia (or returned from a journey to an enemy country) after 1st January 1948, and who hold or have held a passport (whether now valid or not) issued or renewed by an enemy government since 1st January 1948.

B. Persons the ages of 16 and 65 who entered Australia (or returned from a journey to an enemy country) after 31st December 1945, and before the 1st January 1948, and hold or have held a passport (whether now valid or not) issued or renewed by an enemy government since 1st January 1948: and

C. Individual enemy aliens as to whom there are particular security reasons for internment or restriction.

For these purposes “enemy government” means:

i) U.S.S.R. (including Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and the Ukraine):

ii) China (but in respect of Chinese the relevant date is the 1st October 1949 instead of the 1st January 1948):

iii) North Korea (but in respect of North Koreans, the relevant date is the 1st July 1950):

iv) Albania:

v) Bulgaria:

vi) Rumania:

vii) Poland:

viii) Czechoslovakia (but in respect of Czechoslovakians, the relevant date is 26th February 1949):

ix) Hungary:

x) Yugoslavia:

xi) The Soviet Zones of Germany and Austria:

xii) Finland.

The close cooperation of the Department of Immigration was indispensable to ASIO. State immigration offices set up special sections consisting of “two trusted men of the Department… to assist ASIO State offices in the selection of Enemy Aliens for Internment”.

Internees were to be arrested by the police forces of the states, and custody handed over to the army which would provide the internment camps and guards. Through the 1950’s spry regularly provided estimates of numbers of internees to the Director of Military Intelligence. In Apri1 1955 they were:

Army mobilization plans included the establishment of internment camps.2 Staff requirements were calculated, sites identified and negotiations were entered into with other departments for the return to the anny of camps (for example Rushworth Camp (Tatura) occupied by Immigration).

Internment meant detention in custody of persons who had not committed any offence. The Attorney General was to be given the power to order detention by National Security Regulations. These were being drafted in the early 1950’s and were to be asked on the Regulations of World War Two. This might have provided safeguards, as such Regulations would have required that the Minister had to be satisfied that the detention order was necessary, and also there would be provision for an appeal tribunal. As least, the mind-boggling lists compiled by ASIO were not sufficient, as each case had to be substantiated by a “brief’ to enable the Minister to decide whether a particular person should be detained under the terms of the Regulations. This involved ASIO in mountains of paper work.

Contingency plans for internment camps were one of an array of coercive measures to destroy the perceived communist threat during the Cold War. A fuller discussion will be provided in my forthcoming book on the Cold War.


  1. CRS A6122130 item 1281 1282 1283 1284 1285 1286 1287 1288
  2. Australian Archives (Victoria) MP1896. item S20/l01/84 MP1896/1/U item S20/1O/2 M072918/0 itl’ln 45/43/111